Thailand has long been recognized as the birthplace of some of the world’s most extraordinary feline companions. These enchanting cats have not only captured hearts with their striking beauty but have also become intertwined with Thai culture and beliefs.
Some believe that owning a Siamese cat brings good luck and prosperity. Others trust that the Khao Manee, with its striking white coat and mesmerizing eyes, is a symbol of spiritual enlightenment.
These beliefs weave a whimsical tapestry around Thai cat breeds, infusing them with an air of mystique. So, whether you’re seeking a four-legged companion or hoping to invite some good fortune into your life, Thai cat breeds are the “purrfect” blend of beauty, charm, and feline magic!
Pawprints of the past: Thai cats and their enduring heritage
It comes as no surprise that Thai cats have an entire manuscript written about them. The Tamra Maew, meaning, “Cat Treatise” or “The Cat-Book of Poems,” dates back to the eighteenth century, and is said to have been written by Buddhist monks. In it, these fuzzy felines have been described, praised, and drawn so intricately, that scholars, researchers, and cat lovers turn to it even today.
Rummaging through the Tamra Maew, one comes to learn that Thailand was once home to over 20 distinct cat breeds—some known to bring good luck, and the rest regarded as harboring negative symbolism. Thanks to the British Library, there’s an excellent digitized copy of the manuscripts available for all to access on the internet.
But despite Thai cats’ cultural, spiritual, and mythical relevance, many of them are nearly extinct. As for the five original breeds that survive to this day, efforts to conserve their population are well underway.
Wichien Maat: The royal cat of Siam
Sleek bodies, mesmerizing blue almond-shaped eyes, and an air of elegance that would make any cat lover weak at the knees. That’s Wichien Maat for you—the royal cat of Siam. Their cerulean eyes result from a genetic trait specific to the cat breed and are where it gets the name ‘Moon Diamond’ from.
There’s a lot worth learning about the Wichien Maat. These regal kitties are no ordinary house pets. They are highly intelligent and curious and enjoy interacting with their humans, thus earning the moniker “Meezers.”
Back in the day, Siamese cats were the crème de la crème, reserved exclusively for the Thai royal family. They were treasured like precious gems, representing good luck and prosperity. It was believed that when a loved one passed away, their soul would find a new home in the body of a Siamese cat.
Suphalak: Rare yet prized
Commonly known as Thong Daeng (Thai for “copper” or literally “red gold”), this Thai cat breed came to prominence during the Burmese-Siamese war in the 18th century. The sacking of Ayutthaya led to the transfer of many royal treasures to Burma (present-day Myanmar), including the Tamra Maew.
Upon discovering the awe-inspiring nature and energies of Suphalak cats as detailed in the Cat Treatise, the king of Burma commanded his subjects to capture all Suphalaks and bring them back to Burma. This apocryphal story has been used to explain the rarity of this breed and their close resemblance to the Burmese cat.
But Thailand’s love for the Suphalak isn’t just because it’s rare. These creatures are small and short-haired, flaunt golden yellow eyes, and have an evenly pigmented reddish-brown coat. Owing to these attributes, they are compared to the value of gold, implying that they bring prosperity to the pet owner.
Si-Sawat: Shimmering elegance
Also known as the Korat cat, these silver-coated felines feature prominently pointed ears and bright green eyes. They can pick up the faintest sounds, spot the tiniest movements, and sniff out even the sneakiest treats.
Like many other cats on this list, the Si-Sawat is considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity. This explains why it was never sold but only given as a gift, and it had to be in pairs! These cats were considered a symbol of a blissful and prosperous marriage, a guarantee for a happily ever after.
Even today, the Si-Sawat cats are an integral part of the Hae Nang Maew festival in Northeast Thailand. When the villagers are desperate for rain to quench their fields, they take to the streets with a cat in tow. It’s a lively parade, with the Si-Sawat as the star of the show.
Khao Manee: Pure as snow
Literally translating to “white gem,” this Thai cat breed originates from a breeding initiative. Most Khao Manee cats have odd-colored eyes—with one shining like a golden treasure, and the other like a sapphire, which is considered a symbol of good fortune.
The pure white coat is another defining characteristic of the Khao Manee breed. It is soft, smooth, and lustrous, accentuating its elegant and regal demeanor. Moreover, some of these cats are born deaf, necessitating specialized care and attention.
Back in the 19th century, it was strongly believed that owning one of these cats would bring both longevity and prestige to a household. In fact, legend has it that when King Chulalongkorn the Great ruled the land, the penalty for stealing these cats was none other than the ultimate punishment: death itself.
Konja: The black panther
Yet another breed that appeared in the Tamra Maew, the Konja cat often draws comparisons to the legendary Thai lion, Singha. It’s no wonder why their elegant walk exudes a similar majestic aura.
In the treatise, their eyes, teeth, tongue, and claws were described as pitch black. Another distinguishing feature that made them truly stand out was a crisp white stripe running from under their chin all the way down their belly.
Today though, the Konja breed is typically entirely black. Perceptions of this black panther stand in stark contrast to the common belief of black cats being seen as ominous symbols. In ancient times, Thai people believed that feeding the cat would bestow upon them a great deal of good fortune. In fact, the Konja cat continues to be a common fixture in Thai temples to this day.
Preserving what remains
Out of the traditional Thai cat breeds, only five remain in existence today. Veterans like Preecha Pookabut are going to great lengths to preserve their heritage and future by means of initiatives such as the Baan Maew Thai.
Even today, Thai cats are a crucial part of certain traditions in Thailand. The Khao Manee cat is still sprinkled with water during Songkran—the Thai New Year, owing to the belief that it will bring good fortune in the coming year. Go to a Buddhist temple, and there’s a high chance you’ll see little Siamese kittens by the dozen!
For those fortunate enough to welcome a Thai cat into their homes, they will experience the joy of sharing their lives with a truly exceptional and captivating companion.